Zen in the Art of Writing

CC image by Sandra Heska King

Ray Bradbury’s book Zen in the Art of Writing is a series of essays written between 1961 and 1982 chronicling his thoughts on different aspects of writing. All of the books in this blog series thus far have been one cohesive story, making this book unique as a group of connected essays. If I were to choose one theme from this book it would be that of zest and gusto. Bradbury discusses a number of things a writer should (probably) be, but the one that he gives the most emphasis to is that of excitement and passion. If you’re not passionate, then what’s the point? Whatever you write will lack life and be flat and boring.

Bradbury had a turning point in his life when he was nine years old. He loved the Buck Rogers comics, but his friends told him they were stupid so he tore them up. After that, he realized that he still really liked them, and in the end, it didn’t matter what his friends said. He loved them, and that was what mattered.

To be a writer, you must write with zest about things you’re passionate about, whether it be something you love, something you hate, or something you’re terrified of. There must be a drive behind whatever you do. In this gusto, you’ll find the truth, and you’ll find your own voice. In summing up his own book he says, “If anything is taught here, it is simply the charting of the life of someone who started out to somewhere and went.”

His chapters have unique names, phrases like, “Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts from Old Minds.” This chapter explains how he often begins a story. He writes lists of nouns that come to mind, nouns that are somehow important or at least lodged in his mind. He then picks a noun, starts writing, and waits to see if a character says, “That’s me.” He writes, “And the stories begin to burst, to explode from those memories, hidden in the nouns, lost in the lists.”

CC image by tempest tea

CC image by tempest tea

His next chapter is titled, “How to Keep and Feed a Muse.” The first piece of advice is to read poetry every day, and the next piece of advice is to read anything and everything, whether it be “trash or treasure” because you can always learn something. He says, “…you should always be hungry,” for reading, for writing, for experiences.

If I were to pull a second theme from this book it would be the unconscious mind as a sponge. Bradbury talks about the different experiences he had in life and the different places he lived. While he was in the middle of them, he never thought he would write about them, and didn’t pay very much attention, but later, these experiences, the places he lived and the people he met, started surfacing in his writing. Often our lives are soaked up by the unconscious and turned over for years in our minds before they filter out into our stories. He writes, “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

CC image by Dustin Gaffke

CC image by Dustin Gaffke

In my favorite chapter titled, “Drunk, and In Charge of a Bicycle” he writes, “Drunk with life, that is, not knowing where off to next. But you’re on your way before dawn. And the trip? Exactly one half terror, exactly one half exhilaration.”

Rating: 4 stars
The style is obviously very different from other books of a similar vein, but he threads it with a sense of humor about writing, life, and himself. I enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend it.

By: Melissa Blakely